Whilst I try to keep myself to myself and train in private gyms I am occasionally forced to venture into commercial gyms, doing so often leaves me frustrated and confused. Every time I log in to social media I am again bombarded by puzzling training regimes and flawed thinking. We live in a time where quality training information is freely available yet never before has there been so much shoddy training going on.
Whilst I have never, or will never, claim to be an expert in this area I am confident in knowing the basics and implementing these have done me pretty well so far. I have made many mistakes myself, but by being reflective, admitting when these have happened and seeking expert advice where I can I have gradually refined my thinking to the point where I know what to do for the vast majority of goals myself or others may have.
In this brief article I’m going to highlight the common training mistakes that I see on a daily basis and suggest some alternatives. The purpose here isn’t to attack anyone or taunt, it’s to educate. If you’re a trainer implementing some of these methods then take a step back and ask yourself why, is it because you 100% believe in them or is it because they make you more money than doing it properly? If it’s the latter I’d suggest you’re in the wrong profession.
1. Lack of planning and progression
Do you know what the next workout you’re going to do is? How about a workout a month from now? If you answer no to these then we have a problem. If you rock up to the gym and just do whatever takes your fancy or you go to group session where the trainer sticks a workout on the board then you are wasting your time. Why? Well even the most basic understandings of anatomy will be enough to know that in order to stimulate development you need to progressively overload your body. Random training fails to do this, no progression equals no progress. Whilst Crossfit has its positives the WOD (workout of the day) has become a disease amongst fitness culture. It has become easy for trainers to google a random workout and stick it on the board with no thought to development, yet it’s all good as it’s ‘Crossfit’. One thing that it is vital to understand is that the Crossfit games competitors do not train this way. Yes they will jump in and do METCONs or AMRAPs but only as part of a wider periodised programming model.
If you want to make continuous steady progress towards your goals you need to have a plan. You need to know where you are and where you want to get to. You can then structure a training plan with continual, gradual increases in intensity that will progressively overload you, stimulating positive adaptions. If you love the WODs then by all means do them, just don’t ONLY do them. The same goes for those that do fitness classes, that’s great if you enjoy them but don’t think they will help you get where you want to be, you need to put some programming around them.
2. Using the wrong metrics
How do you judge a workout? Is it by the numbers you hit or is it by how tired or sore you feel? Unfortunately for the majority it seems to be the latter and that is the business that too many trainers are in. Termed ‘entertraining’ by Charles Poliquin this is based on the flawed theory that the more tired you feel the better the results you’ll get. Mainstream gym culture has cashed in on this and so many classes or group sessions now thrash people so they feel they’ve worked hard and will keep coming back. If you ever encounter a trainer that boasts about how they’ll make you sick or that you’ll have to crawl out of their session avoid them. They are a moron. Anyone can make someone tired, it takes skill to make someone better. It is also worth mentioning, particularly for you cardio bunnies that calories are another nonsense outcome measure. The whole ‘x amount of calories burns x lbs of fat’ is a lie. There is literally no scientific evidence to support this so don’t get pulled into the trap of thinking about exercise as a way of burning of things you shouldn’t have eaten.
Instead of using perceived exertion or calories as an outcome measure look back to the plan that you’ve hopefully now created. This plan should involve numbers, this gives you a target for each session and from that you can judge how successful a session was. This then allows you to problem solve where things haven’t gone well or incorporate new things where they have. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to go to that tough place every now and then but not every session. Aim for numbers not vomit.
3. Not warming up properly
Do you warm up before a session? And by warm up I do not mean 10mins trundling on a piece of cardio equipment. Or do you jump straight in? If so you will be short-changing yourself at best. At worst you could injure yourself. As Kelly Starrett repeatedly says you have to earn your positions, if you will be squatting in the workout then you need to earn that position by mobilising in your warm up. If you’ve been sat down all day and then go and try and squat you won’t be able to hit depth and will compensate by putting yourself in poor positions. A proper warm up needs to prepare you for each position you need to reach in your workout. Then you can get the heart rate up and jump in. The same goes for cooling down, bring your heart rate back down, stretch and target any problem areas. Don’t just walk out.
4. Choosing the wrong exercises
This is something that I’ve discussed at length elsewhere on the blog so I won’t overdo it here but suffice to say that if your program doesn’t include squats or deadlifts (unless for specific reasons such as injury) then it is likely non-optimal. These compound lifts, which can also include bench and chins, are multijoint movements that are the most efficient way to generate a training stimulus throughout your entire body. Machine exercises or light bodyweight/dumbbell complexes have their place but these should be an adjunct to the meaty compounds. These are the lifts that you can build programming and progressions around. Yes a squat is harder than a leg extension, this is why they work, so invest a bit of time to learn these big lifts and gradually progress them, your goals will thank you.
It is also worth mentioning here that resistance exercises are superior to cardio in virtually every way. Yes some cardio is beneficial but we should all be incorporating resistance exercises at the heart of our program regardless of goals. Please don’t go to the gym and do 30mins on an elliptical and call it a workout. Lift something. Trust me.
5. Not recovering properly
Recovery comes in many guises, from post workout nutrition to sleep and, frustratingly, many regular trainers shoot their training in the foot by not utilising them. A very basic way of thinking about this is that exercise breaks down your body, you then recover and, in this process, super compensate, this provides your progress. As you can see from this simplified explanation you need to recover to progress. So if you train hard but don’t do anything to actively recover then you are robbing yourself of the progressions available to you. In the name of simplicity I will give you these 3 recovery tips to implement now: first you need to get a protein source within 60mins of finishing training. There is so much talked about this, the majority of it is nonsense, yet the basic message is the amino acids from protein are the building blocks for muscle recovery and growth, you therefore need to supply your body with some following training. I don’t care hugely what form these come in, shake or wholefood, we can optimise that later, just start by getting some in. Secondly you need to cool down, this is for 2 reasons, to address any imbalances or tightness while you are warm and to bring your cortisol levels down. A perfect example would be some foam rolling and stretching, 10mins would suffice. Please make time for it. Finally you need to sleep. After a hard session 8+ hours of deep, restful , sleep will enhance your recovery and boost your progress. It isn’t sexy but it is very necessary so leave Netflix for another time and prioritise some Zzzzs.
I hope the 5 points above have given you some food for thought and will help you optimise your training routines. If you have any questions or observations then please comment below and if you would like some personal support to assist you in planning and programming then visit the Services tab on this site for more information.